Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ceramic Heads

I spent four days this week creating heads for future pieces in low fire white clay. Making heads for me is always a big challenge. What expression will they have? How big? Because the clay still feels so new to me and I seem to get fearful that nothing will come out right (I do find this part of myself annoying), I tend to just Dive In. I don't have any idea what I'm after except creating a face that I am curious about and feel a kinship with emotionally.

I also try not to get too attached to any one just yet,  as they could still blow up in the kiln or the glazing will turn them into something (someone) I don't want to work with. Crazy, I know.

So as I get these off to be bisque fired I wish them all the best of luck! Come back in one piece everyone!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Photographing Artwork

First off, let me just say that I am not a photographer. I have come to the place of photographing my own work out of frustration that those photographers that I have used and loved in the past have all retired! Well, that's not all of it. Actually, there is the cost issue and the immediacy issue too (as in having to have a photo of a piece right now). Also, I do think with digital cameras these days and Photoshop, it's easier than it used to be to shoot one's own work.

So I thought I would show my very humble method and set up.

I bought a graduated backdrop last year from B&H Photo, which I go back and forth between really liking and then not so much. I'm liking it again right now, especially since I have white ceramic heads on most pieces and dark copper bodies. The gradient holds both.

I also bought a digital camera last year that I love. A Fuji X10. I got it on Ebay used and it's worked great! My lighting system is daylight and only daylight as you can see from the studio photo above. I have a white translucent window shade (Ikea) that I pull down and a tripod. In the case of some of my wall hung pieces, like this one, I hang it off of two wires mounted to the ceiling. Then, if needed because the piece doesn't hang perfectly, I attach a string to the base of the art and pull it forward until it looks the way I want and attach the string to a weight on the floor to hold it.

Overcast days work best for lighting. Easy to find that here in the Pacific Northwest.

I shoot the photos in RAW format using the 'Automatic' camera setting and bring it into Photoshop CS6 on my iMac OSX. My shots done like this are almost always pretty awful looking when I first bring them into the computer. An example of awful below:


See, very blown out. But after I open it in Camera RAW on the computer, I start adjusting. First I adjust Exposure, then Contrast, then Saturation, then Vibrance, and then Clarity. I have to say that the magic adjustments for me are typically Exposure and Clarity. They save my behind.

"This Light of Mine"
Copper, ceramic, enamel, brass, mixed media.

Then I save the RAW image as a tiff and open it again in Photoshop to crop as needed, also erase my hanging wires and pull-string using the clone tool. Then I consider it done! 

I'm still wanting to buy a softbox for a light on a tripod and play with that, but haven't quite gotten there yet. Perhaps this year. It would also be nice to control my lighting on those little copper letters just a bit more too. So the journey is definitely ongoing...

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Water Jet Metal Cutting

Way back in 2008 I started adding letters cut out of copper sheet to my pieces. I've kept a journal for most of my life, and many of the thoughts therein wanted to come out onto my artwork, so it seemed like a pretty natural way to go. Since I've always been very hands-on, I cut all of these letters out by hand with a jeweler's saw. Super labor intensive. This piece below is an example, the words follow the branches (a bit hard to see, but you can enlarge the image by clicking on it):

No one said it would be easy
but no one said it'd be this hard
but look we've come this far

"No One Said It Would Be Easy"
Copper, enamel, brass, mixed media

The good news is this year I found a wonderful man, Bob Powell (, who lives close by to cut all those letters out for me with his water jet cutting equipment! I created a file in Illustrator and then he translated it into a DXF file for his use. Here's a picture of the first sample that he ran.

These letters are just under a half inch tall, so the detail is amazing. My wrists and cutting arm are so thankful!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Mixed Media Sculpture Finished

This last Friday I finally finished the mixed media piece I've been working on. These things always take way longer than one would think!

My first step from last week was to fit the ceramic hands into copper arms. Getting the fit and expression is always a challenge for me. I fitted the arms first so that they would screw onto the torso, then I enameled the torso via torch-firing. Curved surfaces are a bit of a challenge to torch-fire. I find that it works best for me to do it in about 3 stages, working my way around. I used a "foundation white" enamel, which I find lovely because of its pinkish hue.

Then onward to the legs. At first I thought I would use 2 more ceramic hands for the feet because I liked the oddness of that, but taking a second look I changed my mind (now it seemed too weird). I used a pair of porcelain doll legs instead. Fabricated the rest of the legs out of copper and mounted them to a disk of copper at the top. That disk will then be screwed into the brass (found) small plate that I chose for the bottom of the torso (visible in the previous photo).

Next step, I set everything in place so I can see the figure as a whole. Originally the figure was going to have a circular outside treatment, but I'm finding as I look at it that it's not working (sigh). So I try other things and eventually decide on a horizontal structure. Above is the rough layout.

Then I sit with the piece figuring out how the whole thing will attach to the wall. The figure is relatively heavy, and I know I want it to be slightly raised off the wall surface.

Here's what I end up doing. It's so simple, but it took me forever to get my head around it. The two rods are so big because the entire framework that has the branches and words on it will also connect here and only here.

Next I finish assembling and brazing the word and branch structure and then attach it to the figure. Do a couple xerox transfers onto the torso and at last, it's done!

This is a close up of the 'knowing place' in the torso. It has an image of the 'tree of life' engraved into a nickel disk. Outside the hole is a xerox transfer of  a compass.